England, Samoa fight for middle ground
England coach Steve McNamara and Samoa counterpart Matt Parish have made no secret of the fact that their respective forward packs hold the key to victory in the opening game of the Four Nations.
Both coaches were quick to recognise the importance of winning the battle through the middle when the two sides meet in the opening game of the double-header at Suncorp Stadium on Saturday, a job made slightly easier with the number of NRL-based players featured across each squad.
"I think we're pretty strong up front. I think it's well recognised with George and Tom Burgess in particular and James Graham – who are very familiar faces in the NRL – that we've got a pretty strong pack," McNamara said.
England has six players from the NRL in their squad, while all bar two players in the Samoan squad are based in Australia, ensuring plenty of familiar faces will be on show for the tournament opener.
McNamara, no stranger to the NRL haven taken up the role as assistant coach at the Roosters in season 2014, plans to use his knowledge of the Samoan players who ply their trade in the NRL in order to benefit the England side.
"We are very fortunate that we've got a lot of players that are based in the NRL, so we know a lot of the individuals we're coming up against," he said.
And as far as his own squad is concerned, the England coach feels he has the perfect mixture of NRL and Super League-based players at his disposal.
"I think it's been a good mix for our group, having six of our group who play in the NRL is a healthy number," he said.
"It's not for everybody to play in the NRL. I think that our Super League competition is an outstanding competition.
"It's well respected across the world and I think getting the right balance between players playing in the NRL and staying in the domestic competition is important for us as an English national team.
"Having the benefit of having those players [in the NRL] has given us a great insight into the opposition we'll come up against down here."
Meanwhile Matt Parish, who coached the Samoans to a quarter-final appearance in the 2013 World Cup, insists that his side aren’t just in the Four Nations to make up the numbers.
"Obviously we're pretty proud of our efforts over the past 12 months, but we're in a competition now and we want to compete," said Parish, who also likes the way his squad shaping up ahead of their clash with England.
"Our team has a good cross-section of guys that have been there and done it, while some guys are trying to get NRL contracts, so there won't be any lack of effort.
"We trained really well with a lot of enthusiasm and passion as you'd expect with a Pacific nations team and we need to take that to the game on Saturday."
The Samoan game plan, much like the English, will be a simple one involving their mobile forward pack according to veteran Newcastle back-rower and Toa Samoa skipper David Fa'alogo, who is relishing the prospect of playing in the first Four Nations tournament involving Samoa.
"We intend to run the ball hard and use the forwards that we have. [We'll go] through the middle and do what we can," Fa'alogo said.
"We have a group of players that play in the NRL and Super League so we're confident in the team we have… We're looking forward to making history by playing in the Four Nations against the top-three countries in the world.
"For us to be here is an honour as well as a challenge, so it means a lot."